Papua New Guinea: A Perpetual Wonder

Lapped in laughter: Children leap with wanton glee and exhilaration into the clear waters off Papua New Guinea's Duke of York islands (Photo by: Marc Dozier/Corbis)


The great Melanesian leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou once stated, “The return to tradition is a myth… No people has ever achieved that. The search for identity, for a model: I believe it lies ahead of us… Our identity lies ahead of us.”

Yet, in terms of architecture, we want to reach far back – to gather inspiration from age-old buildings that incorporate traditional design elements. On a personal level, I guess it started with some level of aesthetic appreciation of what we recognise as time-honoured compositions and what our tumbanas (ancestors) did when they put together their humble abodes.

Today, we observe these traces in new buildings – the most iconic being the Raun Raun Theatre in Goroka, which was completed in 1982. Taking a historic round haus (a type of house with a circular plan common to Papua New Guinea), the design was up-scaled using the same materials to achieve its current glory.

In recent decades, award-winning architects have invested a great deal of effort in developing architecture that considers the country’s evolving culture, climate, resources and dual economy, so as to make it accessible to common people in its most authentic form. One such example of this approach is the ever-inspiring Brown House near Rabaul in the province of East New Britain. Designed through extensive consultation, it relates to local architectural traditions, family structures, economic systems and resources. The inland rural site is held under traditional land tenure and is surrounded by coconut plantations, small houses and a school.

The Brown House itself is a series of scattered pavilions used for different purposes. Some are open walled haus wins (small meeting rooms) and all have steep roofs with wide overhangs, vented at each end of the gables. Locally harvested timbers and bamboo were assembled 04 in post-and-rail forms lined with 22-millimetre boards. Till this day, I marvel at its attention to detail, a product of ingenious engineering and cultural reflection.


Fly to Port Moresby Airport on Singapore Airlines from Singapore Changi Airport, on Asiana Airlines from Incheon Airport, Seoul, and on Thai Airways from Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi. All of these flights include a layover.

Airlines PNG and Air Niugini (direct flights available) operate scheduled domestic flights from Port Moresby Airport to Wewak Airport in East Sepik.

Bensbach Wildlife Lodge

Driftwood Resort

Wewak Boutique Hotel

Papua New Guinean Kina (US$1 = 2.62 PGK)

Check out the rest of this article in Asian Geographic No.110 Issue 2/2015 here or download a digital copy here


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